Is it okay to hug your colleagues at work?

Err on the side of caution (Credits: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Whether you see them face to face in an office, or you’re logging on from home, we spend a good chunk of our lives with the people we work with.

And in recent years, we’ve become even more well-acquainted with our colleagues. We’re used to seeing them at home in their comfies – albeit through a laptop screen – and we’ve likely seen their partners/kids/cats make an appearance in the background too.

So when your favourite colleague goes off on annual leave, or they get some well deserved praise, it might feel natural to want to give them a big ol’ hug.

But a male nurse in New Zealand was discharged recently after hugging his colleague ‘too tightly’, and a woman in the UK received a payout after she was hugged from behind without her consent.

Of course, physical touching of any kind is only appropriate with consent – but if both parties are in the mood for a little workplace cwtch, is that okay?

Jill Cotton, careers advice expert at Glassdoor says that while physical boundaries in the workplace can be tricky to navigate, it’s better to err on the side of caution.

Speaking to she says: ‘If in doubt, don’t hug – or at the very least, ask if the person wants to be hugged before moving towards them.

‘Hugs are only acceptable at work if both parties are comfortable with the embrace. Some people are naturally more tactile than others, but within a professional setting, you should use physical contact with caution – unwanted physical interaction can easily make others feel uncomfortable or awkward, leading to decreased job satisfaction and productivity.’

Some responsibility rests on employers too, to ensure everyone knows what is – and is not – acceptable in a professional environment.

‘Employers must set clear workplace boundaries so their teams feel comfortable and bring their authentic selves to work,’ says Jill.

‘By creating a transparent workplace culture from the point of hiring onwards, companies will give their employees clear guidelines for what is and isn’t professionally acceptable.’

Even if you both want that hug, it doesn’t always mean it’s okay.

‘Hugs indicate informality between people, but employees should remember that when in the workplace, professional conduct must trump any friendships you have with those you work with,’ says Jill.

‘This doesn’t mean denying your friendship; instead, be sensitive to the fact that your relationship with different colleagues will vary, and your behaviour towards each should be tailored.’

Of course, there may be times at work where a hug feels natural – like when a person is upset, or has secured a big win. But still, be mindful.

Jill says: ‘Again, ask to hug; if accepted, keep the hug short to avoid awkwardness.

‘If you’re a manager, physical interaction with junior team members should generally be avoided.

‘And if you aren’t a ‘hugger’, one quick tip to avoid an embrace is to firmly offer your hand out to shake as a clear indication that you don’t want more physical contact.’

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